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School aides union and DOE in talks to prevent layoffs

Hundreds of Department of Education employees doomed to lose their jobs next month might not be laid off after all.

Talks to avert the layoffs of 737 school aides were rekindled this afternoon between the DOE and labor officials representing the employees, according to union officials who are directly involved in the negotiations.

“I can tell you that we made significant proposals to see if we can prevent these layoffs,” said one of the sources, who requested anonymity because negotiations were ongoing. “I feel very positive about the meeting today.”

The layoffs to non-pedagogical school staff were abruptly announced last month by the DOE and came after the city blamed the employees’ unions for not providing “any real savings that could have saved these jobs.”

The layoffs caught union leaders at DC-37, the city’s largest municipal union and its affiliate Local 372 off guard. Local 372 President Santos Crespo, who said he attended this afternoon’s meeting, criticized the layoffs as political and being too heavily concentrated in the city’s poor and minority communities.

The drama over layoffs at the Department of Education has persisted since last year, when Mayor Bloomberg first announced that thousands of teachers’ jobs would have to be cut because of widening gaps in the budget. Those talks temporarily ceased in late June, however, when the teachers union agreed to concessions in an eleventh hour deal to avert the layoffs.

DC-37 Executive Director Lilian Roberts, who last month said that she remained “hopeful” that the jobs could be saved, is not a part of the negotiations this time around.

One of the proposals on the table to save the layoffs, Crespo said this morning, will cap the number of hours that aides work in a week.

Other proposals were also on the table, the other union official said this evening, but he declined to offer more specifics. He said they were waiting on a response from the DOE and warned that nothing was final.

“A lot of the things that we talked about are moving pieces that may change after this,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the DOE decline to comment.

The two sides previously have disagreed over certain terms, including the amount that the city would save from the layoffs. DC-37 has estimated that the layoffs would save the city around $22 million, while the city has put the figure at more than $30 million.

The union insider said they could haggle over numbers, but the negotiations were the first sign from Chancellor Dennis Walcott that he was open to negotiations.

“This is a litmus test about whether Dennis is serious,” he said.

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